I will say one thing for the horrid events of September 11, 2001. Had they not happened, we as Americans would not have had the chance to plumb the depths of the hatred for and fear of the “other” that we hide within. Before 9/11, harassment was tolerated, allowed to happen with merely the shake of a head or a click of the tongue. “What a shame,” we subjects of discrimination were told. “Some people just don’t understand.” We were then laden with the responsibility to understand for them, to forgive them for their ignorance. We were expected not to educate.
9/11 ended the “do nothing” period for Muslims in America and around the world. Suddenly, we were targets due to the crimes of those who perpetuated terror in the name of our faith. Our majority was forced to stand up and shout until we were blue in the face that we do not tolerate, accept or condone this type of violence. That we, the Muslim masses, believe in democracy, in the freedom of religion the Constitution promises.
We could no longer sit idly by. Our friends and family were being whisked away to detention centers, fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers detained, tortured, murdered in response to the acts of unilateral thinkers whose views we did not share. We had to speak up, to claim in voices rough with tears that we are people too. Like those minorities before us, we will not be denied our civil rights in a country we love because of its promised equality. Perhaps the writers of the Constitution were not so forward thinking when they promised freedom of religion–perhaps it only applied to those who worship in churches–but we would not let our mosques be riddled with bullets or burned to the ground.
My precious boys, neither of you is old enough to understand why the tears keep falling from my eyes yet I cannot stop smiling. My silent treatment of you will likely be forgiven by its omission from your memories. I am writing this because I want you to understand the incredible blessings of the world you have been born into. There is adversity at every corner, but with adversity comes hope. Barack Obama’s election proves this. He is a man of color elected as president in a country built from the blood of minorities. He is not a Muslim. He did not make a strong standing for Muslims in his campaign, but unlike his contemporaries, he has not incited hatred against us, derided us for our beliefs or used our differences of faith as cause to exclude us from our rightful category of American.
I think it matters that Obama was born to a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother, as he says. It is also significant that he was born in Hawaii, then a state for less than two years. And for that matter that he was born in the early space age, during the presidency of the confident Jack Kennedy. Because while there was still legal segregation, it was also a time of optimism and openness. Recently we have lived through a much more locked-down, suspicious time. If Barack Obama still carries with him the idealism and the open-heartedness that his parents showed back then, something good has to come from his presidency.
As Shawna points out, he did not always stand up for Muslims during his campaign. This was a sad necessity, considering how many voters consider a Muslim--or any non-Christian--president as an unthinkable abomination. It's also likely that the US will continue for now to regard Israel as the hero of the Mideast and most of its neighbors as villains. This is simplistic, to say the least. But the fact that during his campaign he travelled to both Jerusalem and Ramallah is a sign of a more pluralistic viewpoint.
God only knows that there are compromises and disappointments in store. For all that, I feel a little more hopeful about the future.